2021 has been about experiencing races I haven’t done before but have heard so much about. Le Grand Trail Des Templiers would be no exception. For years I have heard of international racers traveling to this lesser-known part of France to run the 80km Les Templiers route. I was told stories of the horrendously fast start and the winding flowy trails that gradually morph into a steep and technical final 10km and figured it would be a race for me.
To run Les Templiers had been lightly pencilled in from the beginning of the season but after the Pirineu marathon, an ankle injury I had been managing since my first race in Sweden started to move towards the dangerous end of the pain scale. I was forward and backwards about going but in the end booked tickets just seven days before, assuring Henriette that I was only going to “try my luck”. At 80km with over 3500m of climb this race wasn’t something to take lightly but I figured if the ankle is painful, I can simply pull out.
I have got some great race experience under my belt this season and knew that I would be using all of it for this course. I was also ready to use every bit of skill I have developed over the years. Sebastien Spehler, who was described to me as a legend of this race, made clear that to do well you needed to have all the bases covered with solid uphill, downhill, and flat speed that you can maintain for hours on end.
My race plan was to go out as smooth as I could, running strongly but not “hard”… a fine difference to try and execute and one that you normally only find if you have good energy, great legs and good form. I figured as the last two climbs and descent were steep and would most likely be hiked by all, this is where I would make my move. That was certainly the smart strategy but then things rarely go to plan.
What did go to plan was the start. At 5:15am we all charged from the line and I settled into a nice rhythm chatting to Robbie Simpson and Petter Engdahl to keep myself relaxed.
The first 20km flew by and apart from a gap that formed on the first proper downhill, the lead group was still pretty big. Rolling into the first aid station at 35km I was feeling energetic and figured if the second “half” goes this fast I’ll have my feet up in no time. What was worrying me were my adductors and right hamstring which were feeling pretty fried already. The ankle was fine though so no question about stopping.
Straight from the aid station the first serious attack seemed to happen. I stopped for a pee and Benoit Cori took off flying. Catching up didn’t seem too hard because we were on a downhill, but we had put near on a minute into the rest of the field.
Into the next uphill and Benoit dropped back leaving me in the lead with 40km to go…so what do I do?
A: Play it safe and keep cruising until I get caught, or
B: Push on and see what happens
Subconsciously choosing option B, I now tried to defend a mere minute gap for the following 4 hours on a course I had never run before.
Que looking over my shoulder too often, straining to hear cheers for a competitor behind and generally pushing harder than I should and I was feeling slightly less energetic at the 45km mark. So, 35km left and each one is having to be earned. The trail is now far more technical and winding with full concentration a permanent necessity.
The gap wasn’t growing but it wasn’t shrinking either. As it happens Seb was in full attack mode trying to close me down using the mantra “its win or die” but somehow the gap held.
10km to go and I am still leading, the climbs have gotten steeper and the sun hotter but I kept telling myself that it isn’t as bad as the third climb in Tromsø Skyrace…I can do this. Finally reaching the top of the last climb I felt like I had done enough.
Down the last descent and finally finished after a little over 6 hours 32 minutes of racing.
Being truly proud of a performance is something I don’t usually experience…but I am especially happy with how I executed this race. I remained mentally strong, used the fitness I had as best I could and put into practice nearly every piece of experience I have developed over the last 10 years of racing.
Well Done Jon, I do love reading your blog each time in awe of your ability and performance.